One thing that I’ve enjoyed during the stay at home order is Mad Libs. If you haven’t experienced them before let me give you a quick guide: Mad Libs are small stories that have strategically removed important words. The players are asked to provide adverbs, adjectives, nouns and verbs without any context. These words are then plugged into the story and read to the group. It’s usually a great way to get some laughter into your day.
In any Mad Libs session, there is inevitably a conversation about whether a given word actually fits the category. One word that has given me pause lately is the word “community.” Usually, we use it as a noun (person, place or thing). Yet, when I read scripture I begin to wonder, “What if community is a verb (action)?” If community is a verb, how does that transform how we understand ourselves as a community of faith?
In scripture, community is initiated and maintained in surprising ways. We see the disciples leaving behind their old lives to follow Jesus. Some literally abandon their nets and boats to actively follow Christ around. In Jesus’ teaching, community is also shown in active presence. In the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10), we wrestle with the question, “who is my neighbor?” This story is a struggle to define who we are in community with. In the story, we find community not in national ties or shared theology. It isn’t those cast in the social role of leadership or nurturer that are identified as neighbor. Community is found in the one who enacts mercy. The one who goes out of his way to protect a vulnerable person. The one who gives time and resources to nurturing the life of another.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, (Matt. 25) we find that the community invited into the reign of God are those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, take in the stranger, and visit the imprisoned. In the book of Acts, we find the community of the early church participating in feeding ministries. We are told of people selling land in order to provide for this young faith community. Community is depicted as active. Christian community is marked by active love.
Over the last several months, many of us have seen our routines disrupted. My old routine allowed me to view community as a noun (person, place or thing). My community was found in the people I work with and see everyday. My community was found in going to church and sitting with the same pewmates and speaking the liturgy together. It was easy and (dare I confess) at times automated. Having these automatic responses taken away has been disruptive.
Disruption can leave us uncomfortable, longing for what was. Or disruption can be an invitation to ask new questions. Given the resources I have, what can I do to build community? What actions can I take to care for those I do not see regularly? What can I do to love those around me?
In the gospel, Christ calls us to community that crosses boundaries. Samaritans and Jews weren’t supposed to associate. Christ called disciples that were both tax collectors (who collaborate with an occupying force) and zealots (freedom fighters). To understand the level of emotion in that relationship we might imagine the police union rep and the protest organizer. When the community of faith looks like that, it compels us to ask even more questions. Who am I “not supposed” to love? How might the Spirit be calling me to build community across those social boundaries? If community is an action, how can I participate? When I look into the face of my “enemy,” can I see my brother? Can I see someone made in God’s image…someone for whom Christ died…someone who is deeply loved by God? If so, what am I called to do about it?
May you be disrupted by questions that lead you to Christ. May you find places to practice community today, with those who are known and those who are unknown. May you find neighbors in unexpected places. May you see Christ in all you encounter and may you love him well.